Plaza III, Kansas City, Missouri

Recently I visited Kansas City for the first time after having wanted to go for the last several years to experience the Paris of the Plains (Kansas City has more public fountains than any city except Rome). I loved it! It was easy to get around (by car), downtown is thriving, there are beautiful homes all over the place, and some fine museums. Then there’s the food! Bar-be-que, burgers, bar-be-que, chili, bar-be-que…you get the picture. And I had to get a Kansas City steak, in a city that was once a major beef producing city. At its peak in the 1920s Kansas City’s stockyards were second only in size to Chicago’s. Following a flood in 1951 they began their decline until they closed in 1991.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

photo by t-mizo on Flickr

 

In 1961 Paul Robinson, manager of the Golden Ox Steakhouse in Kansas City (now closed but due to reopen later this year), met Joe Gilbert, founder of the Four Winds Restaurant at the Kansas City Downtown Airport (now closed but the TWA Museum there is well worth a visit). They teamed up with Joe’s son Bill Gilbert and opened the Plaza III in 1963 in Country Club Plaza, a lovely Spanish style outdoor shopping center designed by J. C. Nichols and architect Edward Buehler Delk that opened in 1923, which is considered the first planned shopping center in the U.S.

 

Ad from 1971

Ad from 1971

 

In 1972 the Gilbert-Robinson group opened a more casual restaurant next door to the Plaza III in an old clothing store called Tom Houlihan’s, naming it Houlihan’s Old Place. That restaurant eventually expanded in the Houlihan’s chain of restaurants, numbering 79 locations by 2012. The original Houlihan’s relocated in 2003 to nearby Fairway, Kansas. Plaza III ‘s dining rooms (which started out decorated in 60s Spanish) were remodeled in 1986 in a classic steakhouse look with lots of wood, dark brown leather booths, brass lamps, and potted palms. The large downstairs space was a disco in the 70s, then a series of clubs until its remodel in 2005 for use as additional dining space for the restaurant, with live jazz on weekend nights.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

dining room

 

The Plaza III menu is classic steakhouse all the way. First comes out a chilled relish tray. Their famous steak soup is a must. It’s a rich, thick, dark brown stew with large chunks of tender steak and vegetables. A bowl would be enough for a meal.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

beef soup – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Steaks are à la carte, USDA Prime, wet aged, and a presented tableside wrapped in plastic before you choose one. I had the famous Kansas City Strip, center cut, because “when in Rome…”, which comes in two sizes (I got the large despite having three lunches earlier. I’m not kidding.). Other options are the ribeye (two sizes), porterhouse, t-bone, filet mignon (two sizes), strip steak au poivre (brandy cream sauce), strip steak au fromage (with Roquefort), tenderloin Oscar, twin filet medallions, and prime rib in two sizes. I’m getting hungry! There are also lamb, veal, chicken, and seafood choices, and many surf & turf combinations available. Steaks come with a choice of béarnaise or au poivre sauce if desired. Sides are extra but come in two sizes, most at $5 & $9. Don’t forget to order chocolate or Grand Marnier soufflé when you order your steak so it will be ready by the time you’re ready for dessert. Both their regular and reserve wine lists have won awards.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

I didn’t get a good photo of my steak but it looked like this – photo via the Plaza III facebook page

 

The Plaza III has had serious steakhouse competition on Country Club Plaza over the years but it has stood the test of time. In 2014 the chain steakhouse Ruth’s Chris closed on the Plaza after 17 years. I call that progress.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse
4749 Pennsylvania Ave, Kansas City, MO 64112
(816) 753-0000
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm, Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm

 

Hugo’s Cellar, Las Vegas, Nevada

If you’re looking for a true Continental restaurant in Las Vegas, there is only one: Hugo’s Cellar. It’s a great pick if you want gracious table-side service, flambé dishes, and an old-fashioned (i.e. old school) dining experience.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

dining room

 

Hugo’s Cellar’s is located (you guessed it) beneath street level, under the main casino at the Four Queens in downtown. Enter the noisy casino from hectic Fremont Street, look for the restaurant’s staircase in the back of the casino, and descend into a more peaceful and genteel world. There is a small bar and cocktail lounge in the front, and the maître d’hôtel‘s stand, where you will be greeted and the ladies presented with a long-stemmed rose. The dining room is decorated with brick, thick wooden beams on the ceiling, green lanterns and Tiffany lamps. It has an elegant old-fashioned feel that seems older than its origin in 1973 as Hugo’s Rotisserie (when the hotel was owned by Hyatt Hotels). The Four Queens has changed hands a couple of times since then but Hugo’s has remained (it was renamed Hugo’s Cellar about 30 years ago). The most recent owner of the hotel vowed never to change Hugo’s – bravo!

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

the martini came with a refill!

 

The tuxedoed waiters are all highly professional, some with decades of service at Hugo’s. Waiter Victor Hutchings has been with the restaurant for 39 years and sommelier Jon Simmons for 32 years (when he started in 1984 he was one of only three sommeliers in Las Vegas restaurants). Service was very attentive and gracious, with multiple staff attending to our table of three.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

waiter preparing table-side duckling anise flambé

 

The menu is truly Continental, featuring such classics as duckling anise flambé, veal Oscar, chicken champignon, and beef Wellington. But it’s also a fine steakhouse with char-broiled steaks aged 28 days, as well as prime rib and seafood entrees. All entrees include a salad prepared table-side how you like it from a rolling cart, vegetables, potatoes or rice, delicious homemade bread and cheese-toasted lavosh, dessert of chocolate dipped strawberries and fruit, and bottled water. Service was impeccable, with multiple waiters attending to our every need.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

duckling anise flambé

 

After-dinner fruit is included with your meal but you should definitely try one the flaming table-side desserts like bananas Foster or cherries jubilee!

 

The next time you are in Las Vegas, you should check out downtown. There are lots of hotels (I like Main Street Station), the fascinating Mob Museum, a few good cocktail bars, a shopping/food/entertainment center called Container Park, and some great classic restaurants like Hugo’s Cellar and Binion’s Ranch Steakhouse (now called Top of Binion’s but I prefer the older name), which I didn’t visit this trip but I have dined at before. On my last three visits to Las Vegas I mostly avoided the Strip and I didn’t miss it at all.

 

Hugo’s Cellar
202 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-385-4011
Open 5:00pm – 10:00pm daily

 

Trader Vic’s, Emeryville, California

Recently I heard some sad news that the Portland outpost of Trader Vic’s closed after a fire. The Portland location was the best of the “new” Trader Vic’s in the U.S. which opened in the new millennium. I know it was because I went to all the new locations, with the exception of the Las Vegas one (mainly because the consensus in the tiki community was that the Vegas one was poorly designed – too sleek and not like a classic Trader Vic’s). The closure leaves only two Trader Vic’s open in the country, in Atlanta (covered by Le Continental) and in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco.

 

Hinky Dink's, Oakland - image from tradervics.com

Hinky Dinks, Oakland – image from tradervics.com

 

In 1934 San Francisco-born Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. borrowed $500 from his aunt and opened a tavern in Oakland at San Pablo Ave. & 65th St. called Hinky Dinks. He acted as bartender and cook, serving mainly beer and sandwiches. But in 1938, after traveling to the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Hollywood, where he visited Don the Beachcomber (opened 1933), he decided to convert a portion of his modest bar into a cocktail lounge solely “for ladies and their escorts” called the Bamboo Room, where he served mixed drinks “from all around the world” such as the Mojito, “Cuban Presidente”, “Barbados Red Rum Swizzle”, “Maui Fizz”, Raffles Bar Sling, and the Pisco Punch [source: Oakland Tribune July 28, 1938 via tikiroom.com]. He also renamed his bar and restaurant Trader Vic’s around this time.

 

Trader Vic's, Oakland, c. 1960 via tikiroom.com

Trader Vic’s, Oakland, c. 1960 via tikiroom.com

 

Word spread about the bon vivant host with a wooden leg (he lost his leg as a child from tuberculosis) who was serving Chinese food (he learned to make by visiting Chinatown in SF) and fancy cocktails in Oakland. The new Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-40 helped business. Herb Caen wrote in 1941: “the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland”.

 

Trader Vic's bar, Oakland - postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr

Trader Vic’s bar, Oakland – postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr

 

In 1944 Victor Bergeron invented the Mai-Tai at Trader Vic’s in Oakland, where he also developed the full-blown Polynesian restaurant concept with tikis, nautical decor, flotsam from around the world, and of course bamboo. In 1948 he opened his second restaurant, The Outrigger in Seattle (changed to Trader Vic’s in 1960) and in 1951 he opened his San Francisco restaurant.

 

Trader Vic's, San Francisco - image via tikiroom.com

Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – image via tikiroom.com

 

The San Francisco location became very popular, frequented by celebrities, politicians, and royalty (Queen Elizabeth visited in 1983) until it closed in 1993. Today the French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial occupies the building but you can see Trader Vic Alley as a tribute to what was once there.

 

Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

Garden Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Garden Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

The Trader Vic’s restaurant chain grew worldwide through the post-war years’ massive popularity of exotic escapism via tropical drinks, Polynesian food, Hawaiian and South Pacific culture, and exotica music. In the waning years of the heyday of Polynesian Pop a new Trader Vic’s opened in the Bay Area, in Emeryville, and the Oakland location closed in 1972.

 

Trader Vic's newspaper advertisement, 1972

Trader Vic’s newspaper advertisement, 1972

 

Trader Vic's, Emeryville - postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr

Trader Vic’s, Emeryville – postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr

 

Some new Trader Vic’s locations opened in the Bay Area in recent years (Palo Alto, 2001-2012 & San Francisco, 2004-2007) but Emeryville has remained the flagship location of Trader Vic’s in the world. The company has its headquarters there and much of the decor from now-closed locations around the country ends up at this Trader Vic’s.

 

bar and lounge, Trader Vic's Emeryville via EaterSF

bar and lounge, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

 

The Emeryville location has seen some remodeling since my first visit about 20 years ago. There was an unfortunate remodel of the cocktail lounge several years ago which gave it a white a-frame ceiling and a lighter nautical look. In 2010 it closed for a few months but thankfully came back looking better; a return to the classic tiki bar look with more tikis and traditional decor throughout the restaurant. And the a-frame ceiling over the lounge is looking great again! There is a lot to see so when you visit take some time to look at the items hanging on walls, above, and around you.

 

decor, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

decor, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr

 

tikis, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

tikis, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr

 

The dining room is wonderful, with large windows looking out on the marina and towards San Francisco. Try to reserve a table with a window view for a romantic meal without peer in the Bay Area.

 

Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

 

The food has also gotten better since my first visit. Highly recommended are anything from the Chinese ovens (the pork chop and steaks are great). And you have to get a Mai Tai where it was invented! Tip: order an “original Mai Tai” which is made from scratch rather than from a mix.

 

Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)

Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)

 

Sadly, we lost many classic Trader Vic’s in recent years, so the remaining two are treasures to be enjoyed as often as possible. So won’t you check out Trader Vic’s in Emeryville when you visit the Bay Area? Please tell maître d’hôtel Claudette Lum that I sent you.

 

Of all the Trader Vic’s (besides Emeryville) I have visited the following:
Beverly Hills (1955-2007; it used to be my favorite; there is a sleek Trader Vic’s lounge now which is nothing close to the original but you probably can get a good Mai Tai there as I hear some of the veteran bartenders are still around).
Chicago (1957-2005; new location 2008-2011)
London (1963-now)
Munich (1971-now)
Atlanta (1976-now)
Palo Alto (2001-2012)
San Francisco (2004-2007)
Bellevue, WA (2006-2008)
Los Angeles (2009-2014)
Portland (2011-2016)

 

Trader Vic’s
9 Anchor Dr, Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 653-3400
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am – 11:00pm, Sat 5:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 5:00pm-10:00pm

 

 

Shanahan’s on the Green, Dublin, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers! I finally visited Ireland in 2014 and was captivated by the Emerald Isle and its people. On my visit to Dublin I visited a lot of historic pubs but historic restaurants were few. I went with friends to dinner at Lord Edward, a venerable pub and seafood restaurant (the third-floor restaurant has since closed but the wonderful  pub and lounge on the first two floors remain open). And I had steak dinner at the elegant steakhouse Shanahan’s on the Green, which is fairly new (established in 1998) but it feels like a classic restaurant so it’s getting coverage on Le Continental.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

photo via wheretoeatat.ie

 

Shanahan’s is owned by John Shanahan, an American entrepreneur of Irish descent who takes residence in the U.S. but visits Ireland often so he opened an American style steakhouse. Remember commercials for “Hooked on Phonics” which aired a lot on the radio in the 90s? It was John Shanahan who started that company with is background in music.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

dining room via mytable.com

 

Shanahan’s is located in a pair of preserved historic Georgian townhouses built by architect Richard Cassells (aka Richard Castle) on lovely St. Stephen’s Green in the center of Dublin. The restaurant is elegant with Rococo decor, white linen tablecloths, plush furniture and carpet in red and gold, fine silverware, and waiters in ties with waistcoats. This is a restaurant for dressing up.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

Oval Office Bar via travelers411.com

 

One of the best features of Shanahan’s is the cozy Oval Office Bar in the basement. The bar is dedicated to American presidents of Irish ancestry and its centerpiece is JFK’s rocking chair behind the bar, which he used on Air Force One. It’s a great place to have a cocktail before dinner or a whiskey after dinner.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Shanahan’s only serves Certified Irish Angus beef from Aberdeen-Angus cattle, a breed developed in Scotland and imported into Ireland in the 19th century. The dinner menu features five beef steaks as well as lamb, pork, and seafood dishes. The prices are in line with high-end American steakhouses and steaks are à la carte (some entrees come with sides). I opted for the 18 oz New York strip sirloin, a side of creamed spinach (served in a copper pan), and french fries. The steak had great flavor but I think next time I would order the rib-eye or filet. I felt like my steak was more like top sirloin than NY strip (top sirloin is my favorite low-priced steak but this was not low-priced).

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

closeup of steak – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

The service was top-notch. Definitely a top pick if you are in Dublin and craving a steak in an elegant, old-fashioned dining room.

 

Shanahan’s on the Green
119 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
Phone +353 1 407 0939
Open Mon-Fri 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm, lunch only on Fridays 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm, Sat 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm

 

Can Culleretes, Barcelona, Spain

Last year we visited Spain’s oldest restaurant, Sobrina de Botin. Today we are going to Spain’s second oldest restaurant (also Catalonia’s oldest restaurant), which I went to in 2004.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Can Culleretes (basically “House of Spoons” in Catalan) in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona started out in 1786 as a dessert café (which is the most likely source of its name) serving crema catalana, chocolate, puddings, and horchata (tigernuts, water, and sugar). In the late 19th century Tito Regás purchased it and converted it to a restaurant. For the restaurant’s decor he had three large murals painted by Francesc Tey, hung large iron chandeliers, and hired famous Catalan ceramicist Xavier Nogués to create decorative panels. The result is a beautiful and restful space, perfect for a leisurely meal. In my opinion, too many new restaurants in Barcelona go for minimalist, sleek decor, which feels cold and boring. I prefer a warm, classic restaurant like Can Culleretes with a lot to look at.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Enfo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35648909

 

Can Culleretes

ceramic panels by Xavier Nogués – photo by Enfo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35648911

 

In the middle of the 20th century Sussi Manubens and Siscu Agut took over the restaurant and still run it (with their children and grandchildren’s help). On the walls hang many photos of famous Catalan matadors, musicians, artists, politicians, and journalists who have visited the restaurant since the Manubens and Agut families took over.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Dean Curtis, 2004

 

The menu is traditional Catalan cuisine. Specialties include pica-pica, a three course meal of steamed shellfish, fried seafood, and a grilled seafood platter, cassolettes de guisats (rich meat stews) such as civet de senglar (wild boar stew with onions) and perdiu a la caçadora (stewed partridge), botifarra amb seques (pork sausage with white beans), and escudella (Catalan soup).

 

Pica-Pica - photo via Can Culleretes' Facebook page

Pica-Pica – photo via Can Culleretes’ Facebook page

 

The restaurant takes pride in their hand-made desserts and I recommend trying their menu del dia luncheon, only €17.50 for three courses (starter, main, dessert).

 

Can Culleretes
Carrer d’en Quintana, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 933 17 30 22
Open Tue-Sat 1:30pm-4:00pm, 9:00pm-11:00pm, Sun 1:30pm-4:00pm, closed Monday